China and Saudi Arabia have cemented ties based on a stronger energy relationship as well as Riyadh’s decision to distance itself from the controversy surrounding Beijing’s approach towards Xinjiang.
Saudi Arabia has also pledged support for the Belt and Road Initiative — Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature connectivity enterprise.
A statement by the Saudi energy giant, Aramco, said the company had agreed to set up a joint venture with China’s military equipment heavyweight, Norinco. The two would build a refining and petrochemical complex, worth more than $10 billion in the northeastern Chinese city of Panjin.
They would form the Huajin Aramco Petrochemical Company — a new firm that would include a refinery processing 300,000 barrels per day, as well as an ethylene cracker. The deal was signed during Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to China. Prince Mohammed arrived in the China after a visit to Pakistan and India.
Reuters referred to a report from Chinese state-television, which quoted President Xi as saying that the two countries must strengthen international cooperation on de-radicalisation to “prevent the infiltration and spread of extremist thinking”.
Human rights groups have accused China of mass internment of people in Xinjiang—a border province with a large population of Uighur Muslims.
According to the report, Prince Mohammed told President Xi that Riyadh respected and supported China’s right to protect its own security and take counter-terror and de-radicalisation steps.
The state-run English language China Global Television Network also quoted President Xi as saying that Beijing and Riyadh should promote counter-terrorism cooperation in West Asia, strengthen international cooperation, and prevent the spread of “extreme ideas”.
‘Jeopardised social stability’
Separately, the Chinese Foreign Ministry posted an interview of Foreign Minister and State Councillor Wang Yi with the Saudi publication, Asharq Al-Awsat, where he explained Beijing’s approach towards de-radicalisation in Xinjiang.
Referring to the separatist East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which has been known for its activism in Xinjiang, Mr. Wang said: “Starting from the 1990s, terrorist organisations such as the ETIM have plotted and orchestrated several thousand violent terrorist acts, involving explosions, assassinations, poisoning, arson and assaults.
These incidents have inflicted heavy casualties and property losses on the people of different ethnicities across Xinjiang, and severely jeopardised Xinjiang’s social stability and economic development.”
He added: “While intensifying our fight against terrorist organisations, China has drawn on the experience of Saudi Arabia and other members of the international community in fighting terrorism and radicalisation, and set up vocational education and training centres in Xinjiang in accordance with the law.”
“The measure is essentially in tune with Saudi Arabia’s counter-terrorism and deradicalisation efforts.”
“The relevant measures are aimed at countering the influence of extremist terrorist ideologies. They are not targeted at any particular ethnicity or religion. They have been conducted strictly in line with legal procedures and in a way that effectively safeguards the rights of citizens.”
The Chinese Foreign Minister offered to carry out a policy dialogue as well as intelligence sharing with Saudi Arabia, and work together “on related technologies, personnel training, stemming terrorist financing, fighting transnational organised crimes and sharing best practices of deradicalisation to safeguard our common security”.
On the economic track, Mr. Wang said China and Saudi Arabia were pursuing projects worth $55 billion. He advocated stepping up negotiations to establish a free trade area between China and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.
The Chinese state-media also said that both countries had agreed to enmesh BRI with the Riyadh’s Vision 2030.